Mezcal Tequila Cantina

Mezcal ups its game at new location.

Mezcal Tequila Cantina

30 Major Taylor Blvd., Worcester

(508) 926-8307

In a town where a chief source of entertainment is dining out, a restaurant’s move to a new location often provokes concern and laments: ‘Woe betide us, neuer ageyn shalt we partake foode so precyouse, so gloryouse!”

But such histrionics have not materialized with Mezcal’s move from Shrewsbury Street. My first reaction on entering their new location was a sense of freedom that comes from open spaces. Indeed, Mezcal is introducing the experience of spacious dining to Worcester, a town accustomed to packed, “cozy” spaces.

MezcalBThe evening I joined a friend for dinner was one of the first warm spring days after what seemed the eternal winter. As if to celebrate, Mezcal had thrown open its wall of windows and set up streetside seating. Erica, our server, soon arrived to welcome us and describe the margarita offerings.

Looking around, I noted a few remnants of Mezcal’s recent Cinco de Mayo celebration hanging from industrial gauged I-beams overhead. Bare beams combined with polished concrete floors provide the room with the acoustic signature of a Mexican cantina. A huge bar, separated from the dining area by a row of booths, was packed with the after-work crowd. The energy level was cranked to “high.”

In that moment the only decision weighing upon us was which guacamole to order. Mezcal offers “tasting flights,” which proved irresistible. We anchored ours with homemade salsa, and for guacamole, we went with House and Thai Rooster. Soon after Erica presented our appetizer, with its bowl of crispy-thin chips, we went into analytical mode.

Fresh? Absolutely. A team of guacamole-makers work at their own station, scraping avocadoes nonstop. And tasty; my friend soon commented, “There’s something nice and spicy going on here!”  I thought Thai Rooster was the standout; sriracha sauce stoked up the heat; toasted coconut and bits of dried pineapple provided a sweet balance. In texture, the dried pineapple reminded me of raisins, so those who hate raisins mixed into their food might want to steer clear. Happily, I’m not afflicted with such aversions.

MezcalDWe dipped away at our appetizer and sipped margaritas. A sample of my friend’s Blood Orange Margarita revealed a sweet-citrus flavor, cool and refreshing. I’ve had my share of too-sweet margaritas in the past, so I decided to try the Smoky. Made with mezcal, I thought it went well with both food courses.

True to its name, Mezcal offers an extensive bar menu of tequila and artisanal mezcal (“tequila’s smoky counterpart”). This is not a taste I’ve acquired … yet.

When I dine at a Niche Group restaurant, I don’t worry about menu items that might seem risky or uninteresting elsewhere. That’s because Niche’s many projects have earned a guarantee of quality and creativity. Thus freed of risk, I chose Mezcal’s Tacos (three for $13). When I read the list of taco choices, I saw it an opportunity to journey through the Mexican-fusion concept.

My choices: Vegetarian #2 was loaded with roasted cauliflower florets and topped with a wedge of avocado that had been fried golden-brown along the edge. Mixed together with creamy corn sauce, this was proof that vegetarianism doesn’t have to be punishment.

Next, a Duck Taco was shredded well-done duck meat drenched in sweet barbeque sauce slathered over a crunchy slaw made with julienned jicama.

MezcalAMy Asian Beef Taco rounded out the trio. Though the beef was also shredded, it had the most spicy-heat of my choices. Lined up on the dish, it looked similar to the duck taco, but its ginger-hoisin sauce gave it distinction.

Another fusion entry, Shrimp & Chorizo Risotto, was my friend’s entrée choice. Mexican? Italian? Portuguese? All of the above, the classic creamy Arborio rice was studded with bits of chorizo and roasted corn, then topped with five large, tender, grilled shrimp. Dabs of tasty cilantro pesto cream anchored each corner of the plate. Smoldering fire came from the nest of roasted red jalapeño peppers scattered amongst the shrimp.

Mezcal’s Tres Leches Cake seemed an ideal closure to the range of assertive flavors in our previous courses. A square of spongy cake was soaked in silky-smooth crème anglaise and striped with sweet strawberry sauce. My friend intoned, “Every bite was imbued with richness,” while I grabbed a spoon to scoop up the last of the creamy sauce.

No discussion of Mezcal’s location would be complete without acknowledging its solution to the city’s perennial parking nightmare: Just stack a multi-level parking garage upstairs! Mezcal Tequila Cantina has long been one of Worcester’s tastier dining options; now, it’s also our most convenient.

By Bernie Whitmore